Liam's Bride: BBW Werebear Romance (Clan Conroy Brides Book 1) (16 page)

 

 

 

Meredith lay in the bed propped on a pile of thick pillows, wondering why everyone else was acting like she should be exhausted.

“I just gave birth,” she said to Liam. “I didn’t almost die.”

He looked up from the infant in his arms, eyes flashing. “You have no idea how that looked from my end.”

Meredith snort-giggled, then laughed. Trying to stifle the noise so she wouldn’t wake the poor baby.

Gwenafar entered the bedroom, a tray in her hand. “Your mother went to grab the tea bags for your swelling, dear. She left her purse when you called. I told her first babies don’t come that quickly. I suppose I was wrong.”

Liam laughed. He could, now that it was over. Meredith smiled as well. The home birth went shockingly fast- probably because Meredith spent several hours in what she hadn’t realized was early labor, thinking she was just overdoing the gardening work. Which she’d been deliberately overdoing in an attempt to get the baby, at forty-two and one half weeks, to come out already.

Meredith reached for the little girl. “She’s the perfect size, too.” She stared at the infants sleeping face, ran a finger gently through thick black hair.

Her mother in law sat on the bed. “I told you she wasn’t overdue. I don't care what that doctor said. Natural gestation is longer than forty weeks for first time mothers. If you just let nature runs its course-”

“Okay, Ma,” Liam said. “You should be a midwife.”

Gwenafar sniffed. “I think I will. No one is too old to discover a new passion.”

Meredith ate bites of a sandwich her husband and mate fed her while the baby nursed. Dozed until a flood of happy astonishment warmed the Den connection she shared with Liam’s Bears through their mate bond.

Opening her eyes, she saw him set aside his cell, looking guilty. She smiled. “Group text?”

He kissed her. “I couldn't wait any longer. One more text asking me if the cub is here yet…”

Meredith leaned her head back on his shoulder. “We have to get Boden married. He’s driving me crazy.”

“One problem at a time, baby. He’ll be next.”

 

 

 

 

Thank you for reading. Alphonso and Tamar’s story will be published October 2015. In the meantime, you may enjoy A Mate for the Bear. Continue for an exclusive full chapter excerpt.

 

 

 

 

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CHAPTER ONE

 

 

“You look lovely, Annina,” her mother assured her, pulling her long tail of bitter coffee brown hair to one side. It hung down her back, straight as a blade of grass but with the gloss of an entire can of olive oil spray. She’d overdone it just a little.

Annina took her mother’s hands. “Mother. Stop fussing.”

The older woman’s summer brown face crumpled, then smoothed as she struggled to contain her emotions.

“My baby. You’re so young- I don’t like using you this way.”

Annina knew she would always be young to her mother. She replied patiently, jaw firm.

“I’m old enough. It would be an insult not to present him with a high ranked daughter from our clan.”

Mother sighed. “I want better for you. A love match. A mate, and cubs. Not to be used as a concubine for old tradition’s sake.”

“Not tradition’s sake. The clan’s survival.”

Because if the Blade’s had their way, in the next council meeting Fire Eagle land would be taken away and their fishing rights along with it. And if that happened, the clan would be destitute. The fishing rights to the Wenatchi River wild salmon brought their clan money, and prestige in council. The voices of their clan’s elders held weight because much of their wealth they cannily redistributed, gaining votes of those clans less fortunate. The Blade’s wanted that voice- wanted that power. And because her grandfather’s mismanagement had led to an… interruption of some of the usual redistribution, their weakening position allowed enemies an opportunity Annina couldn’t let come to fruition.

If it meant presenting herself for The Bear’s pleasure, if it meant bearing The Bear’s cub with the possibility that mother and cub would be tossed out on their backside once the year and day obligation was over, then that was what she would do.

So at the Welcoming tonight when the clans presented their nubile, beautiful daughters, Fire Eagle would present theirs. Not quite as nubile, but certainly with a unique enough beauty of her own. Or so her grandfather had always said.

Her mother left Annina alone shortly after. She stood in her room staring out the window, smoothing freshly buffed and moisturized hands down generously curving hips, recalling that there were times in the history of their people when plump had been a sign of a clan’s wealth, and a daughter’s ability to bear healthy cubs for her mate.  Now the ideal followed more mainstream trends towards slim to the point of boyishness- but Annina refused to believe that any real man would want to hold a fleshless simulacra in his arms at night when he could have chest, ass, and hips overflowing his arms.  She’d never been insecure about her more voluptuous figure like some of her cousins- in fact, she dressed to accentuate her natural curves, using a bit of judicious tucking and slimming with Spanx here and there to even things out. When she finally let a man undress her for the first time, he would be undressing an original Earth Goddess, a real woman designed to reward a man after a hard day’s work. A woman he could pillow his head on.

Though she wasn't classically beautiful, Annina knew her thigh length hair pleased men, along with wide dark eyes with slightly slanted tips. Her full mouth she covered in neutral gloss, and dusted a bit of shimmer over her high cheekbones and along the bridge of a regal nose. Her father, even after thirty years of marriage, couldn't get enough of her mother. And because Annina looked just like her mother, albeit taller, she had always assumed someday her Bear Prince would come, too.

“Annina, the car is ready,” her mother called from the bottom of the stairs. Annina turned from the window, picking up the dress laid over her bed. It was long, one shouldered and draped modestly over her chest, nipping in at the waist and flowing to her ankles. At mid thigh, the opaque fabric became sheer, revealing shapely legs set to advantage by high heels. She was already a tall girl, the heels would add an extra four inches. She smiled. Annina knew, from the brief her grandfather's man had provided, that the new Bear was a tall man and didn't particularly care for petite women. It gave her hope.

Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes. Distanced herself emotionally from her family, from the side of herself that was warm, funny, and a little playful. When she opened her eyes, she was the best secret weapon the clan had.

 

 

***

The Bear sent to them was not from the elder clans.

Because Annina didn't know his clan, she didn't know his attributes. Would he admire strength and cunning, or demure innocence? She knew her clan had the best information on him possible- her spies among the others had assured her of that, but she didn't know enough about him to make more than an educated guess.

What she did know was that he was a silent presence in the council. A junior member, for sure, but a member nonetheless. He'd worked his way through the ranks based on a reputation for shrewdness and unwavering loyalty once his word was given- but he was also known to be swift to retaliate against lawbreakers. The council was sending him to their battling territory because he couldn’t be bought, or embroiled in their already messy politics. He had no existing ties or loyalties that might sway him towards one clan against another.

Knowing all this, Annina had already decided that straightforward honesty would be the best approach. An old-fashioned seduction. He would want a companion, an advisor from the territory who he could trust. She hoped.

The formal Welcoming would be held outside under the midnight moon as was custom, but the lodge was already set up with a spread of delicacies, her clan's spicy smoked salmon among them. A bounty would be laid before Bear, to prove the territory was wealthy, its resources abundant. They all smarted from knowing the council had deemed their infighting dangerous enough to require an overlord- when they'd gone for decades governing themselves. But Annina supposed it was time- they'd been left to fend for themselves for too long and many had forgotten that there was an authority over all North American shifters- an authority they must bow to, whether they remembered or not.

She spotted several other family heads, along with the daughters they would present, each hoping to capture the Bear for the year and day term. Annina would be the only representative from her clan present and figured she could work that to her advantage. She made sure to stand a little away from the others, allowing a bubble of stillness to encase her. She knew the stark red of her gown shimmered against her dusky skin and the forest provided a dramatic backdrop. If she thought too hard, she realized she felt like a poser. At what other time in her life would she be worried about how trees looked next to her dress?

The Bear entered; Kavanaugh. The only title he would be given in this territory. They were all bear, but he would be
Bear
, over them all. A murmur ran through the crowd and when Annina saw why, she nearly laughed. Though this was a formal black and white affair- ridiculous for a midnight forest gathering among native people- he wore a billowy scarlet shirt, loose around his chest, and managed not to look silly, like a lesser man playing dress up. The shirt revealed a glimpse of smooth, hard chest underneath, the silk draping broad shoulders in a way that left nothing to imagination. He was tucked into tight dark jeans and he wore an ankle boot with a low stacked heel.

Head slowly turning to survey the crowd, his amber eyes glittering, he tucked a lock of wavy light brown hair behind an ear. Annina studied the angular bones of his face, the tilted shape of his eyes and bronze of his skin, unable to tell exactly what culture he might hail from. He seemed to belong to all- and none.

Blade headed the ceremonies- lengthy speeches welcoming him to the territory. Proclamations of loyalty and retellings of the oldest tales that honored the strength of Bear. Songs were sung to the beat of drums and finally, when she'd thought her patience was at an end, the clans began to present their daughters for his perusal.

The women paraded in front of him, one by one. Coy, slender young girls with slim hips and subtle breasts- and if they were all of age, she would eat her earrings- and statuesque, bold glamazons with heaving chests and hips made to birth cubs. He made all the right sounds, was perfectly courteous. But she watched his eyes, saw how his eyes moved around the crowd, restless. Saw the tapping of his fingers before he caught himself.

Every clan had presented a member for his choosing, but she had yet to walk forward as Fire Eagle’s choice. Her instinct told her to wait; to wait until the ebb and flow of his attention was optimal. A few times her heart stopped as she saw a brief spark of interest light his eyes- and thought she had waited too long. But no, he would nod, dismiss the girl. Watch again, impassively, as another took her place.

After all the women had presented themselves, he lifted a hand, bringing the gathering back to silence. She moved through the crowd then, placing herself in a position where at the right time she could gain his notice.

“Your daughters are beautiful,” he said, expression impassive. “I am not worthy.”

Annina couldn't help herself; her laugh rang out in response to his stoic, ridiculous claim. Every eye turned on her. A lesser woman would have frozen, especially when the arctic eyes of the Bear settled on her, fey and thoughtful. She walked forward, a small smile playing about her lips. Years of training allowed her to move with greater than average shifter grace- a litheness she accentuated now.

Halting in front of him, she willed him to
see
her- young, brazen, sensual. A woman encased in silk ready to be peeled away for his pleasure. Intelligence and strength in her eyes, as well as an unwillingness to fully submit. She
willed
him to see it- to see a mate ready to match him.

“Do you find me amusing?” Bear asked. Rather than a gauche growl, his voice dropped to a low purr. Annina froze a split second, her eyes nearly closing in a shudder. His voice brushed against her like warm velvet, a rough lap on skin already sensitized under his gaze. She inhaled, drawing herself together.

“No, Eldest. I doubt that you’re unworthy- only that you have yet to see something you want.”

And she sank into a perfect curtsy, only
half
mocking.

“I find you pert.” She heard no displeasure in his voice. He lifted a finger, gesturing. “Come closer. What clan are you?”

Rising and approaching with slow, sinuous steps while holding his impassive shimmery eyes with her own, she stopped only when standing a bare arms length from him, keeping her gaze trained on his.

“I am Annina, Eldest. Clan Fire Eagle.”

“Annina.” He drew the name out, rolling the syllables around his tongue, making the name sound exotic. A strong finger reached out, brushing the line of her cheek with the lightness of butterfly wings. His scent filled her nostrils; she leaned in, taking him into her lungs. “So you think you’re what I seek?”

“I think you need a consort in this territory willing to place your interests above her own.”

He smiled, the expression both dark and intimate. For a moment, she forgot she was predator pretending to be prey and wanted nothing more than to lay her throat bare to him.

“And you are willing to place me above your clan- above yourself? In return such a woman would have my loyalty, my protection. But are you worthy, Annina Fire Eagle?”

Annina dared take one step closer to him than protocol dictated, breaking into the circle of his personal space. Allowing him to feel the heat and promise of her body. He looked down at her, utterly still.

“Ask me in the morning, Eldest, and you’ll have an answer for yourself.”

He did not release her from his gaze. “Then come.”

 

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